What’s the point in politics…

When Russell Brand controversially stated that there was no point in voting I had mixed feelings. I’ve always argued that we should vote because people fought (in various ways) for this right. I was also disappointed as I had heard Brand talk about political issues and he seemed to have a socially conscious attitude and ideas. I was also personally motivated because, as you may know, I have been involved in politics myself and the party I’ve aligned myself with (see photo below for a clue) have strong support among young people. If Russell Brand was dismissing voting then this would not help us when campaigning and ‘getting the vote out’. However, having spoken to many people on the streets and friends and family, all removed from political echo chambers I could see that Brand had a point, and people were disillusioned with all things political.

Russell Brand with a politician he said we could trust

Sadly this feeling of disillusionment is not unusual and may even be growing. Last week I spoke to a friend and colleague who has previously been actively involved in politics. They had been watching the Holyrood 2016 leaders debate, but turned it off when the ‘debate’ descended into a shouting match. This is sad but not uncommon to anyone familiar with mainstream politics. Alongside this example I have become increasingly exasperated with the party I am a member of. I won’t go into details here, maybe that is for later, but it has slowly dawned on me (and this will be no great surprise to many of you) that there are a great number of people in politics simply for personal gain. I’ve always expected this to be the case with parties such as the Tories but I have been stunned by how people of all political persuasions are prepared to manipulate positions, systems and even other people to simply get a shot at power. Of course this isn’t just about gaining political power, there are issues of control, personal recognition and money (the ‘salary’ for being a Holyrood MSP is just over £59k – and I challenge you to name yours).

Jacob Ellis, Dundee & Angus Green Party candidate

So should we just give up on politics? For now I am not quite there, and that is because in Dundee there is a by-election in the Maryfield ward and a local young person is standing for the Dundee & Angus Greens. Jacob Ellis (pictured above) put himself forward when the branch was struggling to find people prepared to step up and stand. The Scottish Greens haven’t done that well in local politics (especially in by-elections) and getting people elected takes time and a real commitment to the local community. Also being a candidate is hard work, and stressful, but Jacob has thrown himself into his campaign but crucially has been visible, out talking to people on the streets and engaging lots of other young people in discussion. Most importantly Jacob doesn’t seem to see this as a fast track to power, or money (it is a very safe SNP ward, and councillors don’t earn much). But he really wants to raise issues that matter. This is not lost on the people – the real people – he has been meeting on the streets of Dundee and Maryfield. One of Jacob’s big ideas is to get disused buildings and land (such as below) back into use for housing or sustainable business or industry and create employment and opportunity. Those of you who know Dundee will hopefully think this is a good policy idea and consider voting for Jacob. And I hope other young people will continue get involved in politics, not for personal gain, but to raise issues that matter. If not the career politicians and the media circus they inhabit will continue to spread disillusionment among real people.

Disused buildings in Maryfield, Dundee

Find out more about Jacob’s campaign here: https://www.facebook.com/Jacob-Ellis-for-Maryfield-1561578797491964/ (and why not give him a like)

Educational neuromyths & overcoming blogophobia

If you have read some of my earlier posts you will know I have an interest in scientific literacy and am concerned by a lack of rational thinking and critical analysis in education. This topic came up again as I taught a session to the first year MA Primary Education students and I was also pleased to notice that a Guardian article covered this around the same time. A bit more digging took me to a rather useful OECD link but my saddest discovery was that Dundee City Council had previously invested in the dreadful Brain Gym, and some of the poor students I was now working with had been subjected to this nonsense when they were at primary school. I should add that when teaching in Sunderland I was once on a local authority run CPD session where this was also peddled as scientific fact or pedagogical gold dust but on that occasion myself, and fellow attendees, called out the trainer and they quickly back tracked (not before they had tried to sell us some sort of branded Brain Gym merchandise though!). My main ‘beef’ with this is the pseudoscience behind some of the activities.

 

One of the many scientifically illiterate Brain Gym resources online

 

Moving back to my current role, during sessions covering science pedagogy, the students here at Dundee University work on mini-essays about scientific literacy as a group and I have previously posted one on this blog. This year some of them have taken this s step further and posted these on their own GLOW blog sites. Again I was really pleased to see the quality of work and clear understanding of this topic. This brings me nicely to another topic I am interested in, which is the use of social media and digital tools for professional development. Discussing the use of blogging with students recently it became apparent that some were apprehensive of sharing their ideas in a public arena. A bad case of blogophobia maybe? (Which incidentally is a ‘thing‘) Rather than be seen to be sharing ideas some students would rather not post at all. Which I found rather sad, as open, honest, critical reflection and debate has transformed the way I approach education myself. And this lack of critical engagement is what allows neuromyths and other pseudoscience to flourish.

The dreaded learning styles theory which has even infiltrated national curricula policy documents (and probably still features in some teacher education programmes)

 

Of course this fear of sharing ideas and blogging is not limited to teacher education students. During discussions about blogging a senior staff member proudly sang the praises of our students efforts but then admitted they had not engaged with blogging themselves (don’t worry – I’m working on a plan to address this though). This got me thinking that there may be some underlying issue of confidence or fear of looking silly. This is so sad as in a primary school nearly every child I ever worked with lived life to the full, with a cheerful sense of ‘so what’, but something happens as they get older. If I pose our students a question the proverbial tumble weed comes quickly in to view, before some poor soul (pitying me I suspect) blurts out an answer. Contrast this with primary school where if you ask for a volunteer to come to the front of the class you will most likely be trampled by 30 pairs of stampeding, tiny feet.

So this brings me back to the mini-essays that the MA1 Primary Education students confidently posted on their blogs and were happy to share. I have included some below and would love you to take a look and possibly comment. Who knows, you might learn something from them!? (I picked these completely at random by the way.)

MA1 Primary Education Scientific Literacy mini-essay blogs

Adele Herron, Chloe Connor, Erin McGlynn and Megan Shearer

Ailsa Mackie, Polly Ford, Rebecca Muir and Rebecca Birrell

Hannah Stillwell, Lauren Summers, Amy Turner and Sarah Stewart